Johnson & Johnson announced Friday that its COVID-19 vaccine is 85% effective in preventing severe illness, including reducing hospitalizations, in its Phase 3 Trial.
“Even if you were to get COVID, some moderate form of COVID on our vaccine, what we found is that the data tells us you have a much milder course,” said Mathai Mammen, head of pharmaceutical research and development at Johnson & Johnson.
Mammen said he sees it as a help to 100% of people who get the vaccine, which comes in a single dose.
“I think we’re going to see much more easily widespread implementation and use of this vaccine,” said Summer Mcgee, dean of the University of New Haven School of Health Sciences.
It also does not need to be kept at such cold temperatures as the Pfizer vaccine. McGee said that is helpful reaching more people outside of cities, as well as groups like students who may be hard to schedule a second dose.
“So really this vaccine really presents some interesting tradeoffs,” said McGee. “It’s the balance of some of those logistical benefits with a little bit less effectiveness.”
When it comes to choosing a vaccine based on comparing efficacy, some warn against stacking Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.
“You’re really comparing apples and oranges in this case,” said Kagya Amoako, associate professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of New Haven.
The current vaccines available use newer m-RNA technology while Johnson & Johnson uses a weakened virus that causes the common cold and changes the DNA in the virus cell, similar to how flu vaccines are created. It doesn’t use or cause COVID.
“This is quite good, and if approved we’re gonna have now three in the U.S. which means more people are going to get vaccinated,” said Amoako.
The Johnson & Johnson data shows the clinical trial also included the South African COVID strain in the study.
“It was still effective up to about 65%, so it does still have an impact,” said McGee. “It’s just not as effective against that strain as it is other strains.”
It’s the COVID variant to watch. So far the approved Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine candidate, are somewhat effective against strains like the one from the UK but less effective against the South African version. That strain is now detected in South Carolina.
“Obviously this is of some concern and why scientists and researchers are studying them very hard. But also, it was to be expected,” said Dr. Jessica Abrantes-Figueiredo, chief of Infectious Diseases at Saint Francis Hospital.
That’s because viruses mutate by nature. Researchers are looking into developing booster shots, and reminding people the more cases there are, the more chances of mutations.
“So, wearing a mask, physical distancing, limiting your interactions with others outside of your family unit,” said McGee. “That’s how we’re going to stop this virus from having a chance to mutate and how we’re going to get control of the spread.”
The company plans to apply next month for emergency FDA approval.